Don's Jersey Birding: A Special Thanksgiving
A magnificant bald eagle was seen on our Thanksgiving walk, something my brother and I would have never imagined possible twelve years ago.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Nicol
Thanksgiving was always a special day for my brother and I. It meant much more to us than having a big dinner and watching football. It was a day we would get outside and enjoy nature together. This wasn’t the only day of the year we would get together and relish the wonderful natural places we had around us, but this was our day; a special time we set aside each year to appreciate the natural places we had close to our home in the Meadowlands. Thanksgiving morning for us meant a walk around Losen Slote Creek or Teterboro Woods.
It was our wilderness, our Meadowlands, and a place we both loved. Even when life separated us for a time, we would talk on the phone Thanksgiving morning and reminisce about the time we saw the Barred Owl looking down at us from a Pin Oak in Teterboro Woods. Or the time we found a mouse hanging from a tree branch, placed there by a Northern Shrike. And the American Bittern that stood only a few feet from us impersonating the tall reed grasses of the marsh. The memories of all those special Thanksgiving mornings stayed with us no matter what else was going on in our lives. We would always have that time to go back to whenever we needed to feel the need to be together, no matter where time had taken us.
Photo Credit: Losen Slote
In the twelve years since his passing, Thanksgiving mornings have never been the same. Even though I lead many field trips to our Meadowlands throughout the year, Thanksgiving mornings would find me sitting around the house thinking back to those wonderful mornings, but still unable to bring myself to walk along those same trails we both loved. It was still a special morning for me, but I couldn’t find the strength to share it with anyone else. I thought I would just be left with the old memories for the rest of my days.
But this year, just a few days before Thanksgiving, I felt something different. I thought that just sitting in the house this Thanksgiving morning would not be right, and it would not be what my brother would want me to do at all. I decided that I would go out this Thanksgiving morning, go back to some of the places we loved, and maybe try and see if anyone one else would like to join me.
I wasn’t sure if anyone would come out on this beautiful Meadowlands Thanksgiving morning. After all, everyone had dinner, family, and traveling to think about. So I thought if I had to do this walk by myself it would be ok, and that is what I would do. But I would not just sit inside and think back. No, not this Thanksgiving. As 9 a.m. came closer, 6 people drove up to the parking lot at Losen Slote Creek Park in Little Ferry, a place my brother and I loved to spend some of our special mornings. Everyone was excited to be there and thought it was a great idea that I decided to have a Thanksgiving nature walk.
A trail at Losen Slote Creek Park. My brother and I spent Thanksgiving mornings walking trails like this.
After many years of having an empty feeling on Thanksgiving mornings, a sense of peace came over me. Nature and the good folks that joined me helped me to understand that the experience I enjoyed in the Meadowlands with my brother for all those years was not meant to be lost or kept to myself. It was meant to be shared and passed on so more people could love those same places in the same way that we did.
Near the end of our walk, I took a quick glance up to a large tree in the distance and there stood an adult Bald Eagle, which is still an incredible sight to me. I tried to think of what my brother would have thought about seeing a Bald Eagle in a place that he loved so dearly. I don’t think we could have even imagined seeing an eagle here 12 years ago, yet there it was for all of us on this special Thanksgiving morning to see. I’m sure my brother would have loved it and would have been even happier knowing that I helped some folks see one for the first time.
On the way back to our cars, someone turned to me and asked, “Don, could we do a Thanksgiving walk every year? Maybe start a new tradition?” I answered, “Yes that would be a great idea.” Thanksgiving morning could be a special day for everyone to get out with friends and families and continue the tradition of enjoying nature.
I like to think that if my brother was still here, he would be with me helping to show people the wonders of nature in the Meadowlands, especially on Thanksgiving mornings.
Don Torino is the Education Chairperson for Bergen County Audubon Society.